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Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK
Unionists challenge Trimble's policy
UUP leader David Trimble
David Trimble may have to face UUP's ruling council
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble could face a crunch meeting of his party's ruling council to discuss whether to continue in Northern Ireland's power-sharing government.

A meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council may be held in September to debate the party's future in government with Sinn Fein.

The BBC has learned that anti-Agreement members of the party have lodged a petition containing more than 60 signatures requesting that an emergency meeting takes place as soon as possible.

Some members of the party had called for it to withdraw from the power-sharing executive because of recent reports alleging IRA activity in Northern Ireland and Colombia.

South Antrim MP David Burnside
David Burnside is backing council move

There are also concerns over the violence which has taken place in recent months in flashpoint areas of east and north Belfast.

The request for the meeting has been supported by the South Antrim MP David Burnside.

It was the 800-strong council which agreed to go into government with Sinn Fein two years ago. It also has the power to pull Ulster Unionist ministers out.

Before any meeting can take place, the party officers have to debate the matter, agree on a date and find a venue.

The next meeting of party officers is due to take place on Friday.

In July, Mr Trimble said he would put off any decision until September but any move from him has now been pre-empted by the anti-Agreement elements within his party.

With an assembly election looming next year, the "No" camp seems intent on a final effort to try to change the party leader's policy.

'Time for debate'

Anti-agreement Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson said it was clear that there was a growing lack of confidence within unionism about the failure of paramilitaries to commit to peace.

"I have argued all along that it is up to unionists to take appropriate action. Obviously there are people in the party who feel it's time to have a debate on the removal of Sinn Fein from ministerial office," he said.
Mark Durkan:
Mark Durkan: "David Burnside wants institutions collapsed"

Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said there was enough support within unionism to withstand the pressure from sceptics.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Wednesday, he said: "David Trimble is a unionist leader, he should act as a champion of the Agreement that he signed and that they voted for."

David Burnside said he expected an Ulster Unionist Council meeting to take place in mid-September.

'Take the initiative'

He said while he had not signed the petition, he fully backed it.

"We have no confidence in the government. Ulster Unionists must act and take the initiative and we will do at the Ulster Unionist Council," he said.

"I am confident that a bottom line will be drawn that will have widespread support from the unionist community."

However, an Ulster Unionist assembly member described the move as "absolute madness".

David McClarty said Trimble should be allowed to lead the party and decide when or if UUC meetings should be held.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said Mr Burnside was not proposing an answer to his own concerns.

He said the South Antrim MP wanted to bring down the Good Friday Agreement structures by his actions.

"He knows the course he is engaging in has an outcome - the collapse of the institutions - and he is quite prepared to engage in tactics towards that end," he said.

BBC NI's political correspondent Martina Purdy:
"David Trimble's supporters say his detractors have no viable alternative"
South Antrim MP David Burnside:
"I will not accept that Martin McGuinness should be involved in the ministry of education"
SDLP leader Mark Durkan:
"Those who threaten the institutions play into the hands of paramilitaries"
Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis





See also:

25 Jul 02 | N Ireland
24 Jul 02 | N Ireland
24 Jul 02 | N Ireland
24 Jul 02 | N Ireland
22 Jul 02 | N Ireland
17 Jul 02 | N Ireland
17 Jul 02 | N Ireland
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